However your small business got its start—maybe it was just you doing everything, maybe you’re one of a bunch of nerds who had a great idea and a modicum of business savvy, or maybe you took over a business started by someone else—whatever your story, you probably look like most other small business owners in this one regard: you’re driven by your vision and it’s got you working your tail off to keep the ship afloat and on course. You do this with a combination of intuition and management hacking. At this point, you may even say that your best lessons learned come from your mistakes. But at the end of the day, you know what’s best for the business because it’s the product of your vision.
But does the “go-it-alone” spirit always result in the best for your business?
A recent report by Keap and Emergent Research found that the vast majority (94 percent) of small business owners surveyed identify specific financial goals for their business and yet only 65 percent are confident they will achieve them.
This leaves 29 percent of small business owners—that’s nearly one in four—who have set specific financial goals for their business, but who can’t confidently say that they will achieve them. This is where coaches and mentors come in.
Business coach vs. business mentor: What’s the difference?
Before we dig in deeply to why it’s important to hire a business coach, we need to touch briefly on the difference between a coach and a mentor. Both are extremely valuable assets to small business owners.
Business mentor: A business mentor, primarily, is relationship-oriented (therefore a long-term commitment) and won’t charge a fee. Mentors tend to be concerned about the growth and success of the business owner as an individual. Their first role is to listen to the goals, dreams, and challenges of running the business, and to provide wisdom and advice that will shape both the individual business owner, as well as how he/she runs the business. The Small Business Administration offers a very strong resource for finding a mentor.
A mentor really is a must-have for any small business owner who wants to grow and run a successful business, especially given that mentor relationships cost nothing more than the time it takes to meet with them. Nonetheless, a mentor is not a substitute for a business coach. They each accomplish very different—very necessary—objectives for your business.
Business coach: A business coach helps your business tackle specific tasks and objectives (for example, helping through the process of bringing on a business partner, or managing a software implementation). The coach helps set the objectives, determines the number of sessions needed to meet the goal, and charges a fee for the service. The relationship with a business coach is most often short term, and you could make use of several different coaches over the life of your business.
Business coaches, too, are must-haves for small business owners. But when many entrepreneurs see that fee, they cringe. The gut reaction might be to hunker down and solve the problem on your own, just like you’ve done for so many other areas of your business. But don’t worry about how you can’t afford to hire a business coach because the truth is, you can’t afford not to hire a business coach.
5 ways a business coach will help your business
As an entrepreneur, you started off as a specialist: You had a great idea for a business, and you launched. As a newfound business owner, you’re now stuck with the job of the generalist. This can work for a while, but you’ll soon realize that you don’t have time to stay on top of all the things you need to do, or challenges too complex for your experience. You can continue to hack it, or you can get some help.
1. Strategy and planning
A coach will challenge you to think differently, stretching your goals. Sure, you have lofty expectations for your business, but to rebound your strategy off someone who’s walked this road before—pointing out pitfalls, areas you need to strengthen—this is invaluable. Someone with a unique, but proven, wherewithal for strategy will push you harder while also keeping your approach on course.
Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in small business, and it can be tough to keep up. Tech helps small businesses gain a competitive advantage by communicating better with their employees, customers and prospects; saving time and improving efficiency by automating their processes; and improving business performance through the use of business analytics. Coaches have the skills needed to successfully deploy new technology, manage integrations, and consult on the best options for your unique situation.
Coaches and mentors help improve your management and leadership skills. As your business grows, your role will evolve into a greater and greater management capacity. Coaches will help you navigate difficult business problems and decisions, and will help set a foundation early on to be able to handle some of the big, inevitable, management storms that lie ahead.
4. Marketing advice
Especially in the early stages of a small business, the entire marketing strategy and effort falls on the shoulders of the business owner. Coaches can help you see what you’re not seeing. A seasoned business coach who has experience with branding, marketing strategy, and tactics can lift your sales numbers and keep you from spinning your wheels on what doesn’t work.
5. Grow the business
It doesn’t matter so much where you are now, as long as you’re clear on where you’re headed. A coach will help you address the areas of your business that need nurturing to ensure you stay on track to healthy growth. Perhaps the most important factor to staying on track is having someone to be accountable to. It’s easy to let yourself off the hook. A coach can serve as an accountability partner, helping you push through the challenges to meet your goal.
Bottom line: When you run out of time in a day to “learn while doing,” or when the margin of error for learning from your mistakes is gone, you look for expert help to provide guidance and work through complex problems quickly.
To be clear, coaching and mentoring is a two-way street. You get the most from it when you put the effort into the relationship. You still have to run your business, and you’re responsible for what happens.
As with every relationship, you can’t expect that there will always be a perfect fit. The small business owners interviewed for our report warned that not all coaches or mentors were effective or worth their fees. But they found that the Internet made it easier to find and vet qualified coaches who add value to their firms. These same businesses went on to say that good coaching was extremely valuable—indeed, was more than worth their investments in these areas.
The business environment continuously grows in complexity and at a rapid pace. Keep in mind that as your business moves through stages of growth, your key business challenges will inevitably change. Also recognize those new challenges will require changes in how you manage your business. If you want to stay competitive in the midst of growth and change, don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.